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Once a month for the past nine years a small group of women has come together to better understand ourselves by speaking our truth, in what we call our Spiritual Circle.

We were inspired to create our Circle after reading Anita Diamant's novel, "The Red Tent." It's the story of how Dinah-as told in the Bible's Old Testament-listened and learned from the stories her four "mothers" related while they were sequestered in the red tent during their menses. For centuries, our ancestors have ritually gathered together drumming, singing, dancing, telling stories and learning from each other. In our busy Western culture, this tradition has been difficult to perpetuate, yet is still sorely needed.

Our criteria for whom to invite to our Circle were simple but significant: We wanted diversity of all kinds and a willingness to explore one's spiritual journey. Currently, our Circle is composed of women between the ages of 23 and 73 who come from very different sacred traditions, including an agnostic and a Jehovah's Witness. Circle evenings start with sharing a simple meal, recognizing that breaking bread together is a universal practice of building community. The time allows us to catch up on each other's daily lives. After our meal we "open" Circle by lighting candles and asking a blessing on the Circle. Our candles are white, representing our unity, but each candleholder is different, representing our diversity.

We send our topics and questions to each other before we meet. They are varied, thoughtful and intended to provide insights both for the speaker and the listener. Topics have included scarcity, sufficiency, abundance, beginnings, endings, judgment, forgiveness, goodbyes, spiritual foremothers, vulnerability, strength, beauty, money and grief.

Using a "talking piece," each woman speaks her truth without interruption, as the listening Sisters hold her words lovingly, suspending judgment. After each woman has had a chance to speak, or pass, the Circle Sisters are free to share personal reflections and insights from what they've heard.

Hearing and telling our stories has been a transformative experience for every Circle Sister-helping us unearth our wisdoms, face our fears, explore our dark sides, attest to our strengths and honor our womanhood. The journey seems never ending as each Circle expands our vistas and offers contemplative exploration of our inner selves. Circle allows us to honor the place within us that can only truly know itself in the company of another. In its space, we both give and receive sanctuary, and we treasure Circle time as a precious monthly gift to ourselves.

Virginia Laken (mother) and Beth Halleck (daughter) live in Winona, Minn. Beth is a mother of five and works at Winona State University. Virginia is a writer and grandmother of five.

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